A quick reference on homeless veterans for media professionals:
Although flawless counts are impossible to come by – the transient nature of homeless populations presents a major difficulty – the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 49,933 veterans are homeless on any given night. Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness. Only 7% of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly 13% of the homeless adult population are veterans.
The number of homeless veterans has decreased by 33% since 2010, according to HUD's Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR).
To obtain the most up-to-date local estimates, contact the homeless coordinator at your nearest VA medical center or the Office of the Mayor or county government serving your area.
Combat veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and the Global War on Terror who need help – from mental health programs to housing, employment training and job placement assistance – are beginning to seek help from the nation's community-based homeless veteran service provider organizations. Already stressed by an increasing need for assistance by post-Vietnam-era veterans and strained budgets, homeless service providers are deeply concerned about the influx of combat veterans who will eventually be requesting their support.
Approximately 12,700 veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND) were homeless in 2010. The number of young homeless veterans is increasing, but only constitutes 8.8% of the overall homeless veteran population.
In addition to the complex set of factors influencing all homelessness – extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to health care – a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks. Additionally, military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment.
A top priority for homeless veterans is secure, safe, clean housing that offers a supportive environment free of drugs and alcohol.
Homeless veterans need a coordinated effort that provides secure housing and nutritional meals; essential physical health care, substance abuse aftercare and mental health counseling; and personal development and empowerment. Veterans also need job assessment, training and placement assistance. NCHV strongly believes that all programs to assist homeless veterans must focus on helping veterans reach the point where they can obtain and sustain gainful employment. If not, clients will be unable to find and maintain safe, decent, permanent housing.
In May 2012, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released a report titled “Incidence of Homelessness among Veterans and Risk Factors for Becoming Homeless in Veterans.” The report presents findings from a study of roughly 500,000 men and women who separated from military service in 2005 and 2006 and were tracked through Sept. 30, 2010. These veterans had not experienced any episodes of homelessness before their separation from active duty, and utilized DoD (including TRICARE) or VA health care after their separation.
The full report can be downloaded here (PDF). Among its findings were the following:
The most effective programs for homeless and at-risk veterans are community-based, nonprofit, "veterans helping veterans" groups. Programs that seem to work best feature transitional housing that offers the camaraderie of living in structured, substance-free environments with fellow veterans who are successfully regaining control of their lives. Because government money for homeless veterans is limited and VA serves less than half of this population, it is critical that community groups reach out to help provide the support, resources and opportunities most Americans take for granted: employment, housing and health care.
There are over 2,100 community-based homeless veteran service providers across the country and many other homeless assistance programs that have demonstrated impressive success reaching homeless veterans. These groups are most successful when they work in collaboration with federal, state and local government agencies; other homeless providers; and veteran service organizations. Veterans who participate in these programs have a higher chance of becoming tax-paying, productive citizens again.
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on homeless veterans’ issues, programs, legislation, federal funding streams and national policy issues, as well as interagency coordination of services and organizations providing direct services to homeless veterans.
Executive Director, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
Director of Communications, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans